This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Laurie Flynn, author of FIRSTS) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.
Laurie Flynn writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her debut, FIRSTS, is out now with Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s Press. Laurie went to school for Journalism, where the most important thing she learned was that she would rather write made-up stories than report the news. She also worked as a model, a job that took her overseas to Tokyo, Athens, and Paris. Laurie now lives in London, Ontario with her husband Steve, who is very understanding when she would rather spend time with the people in her head. She drinks way too much coffee, snorts when she laughs, and times herself when she does crossword puzzles. Follow her on Twitter.
1. Comparison really is the thief of joy. If you’re coveting somebody else’s success, take a minute to reflect on your own. A lot of good news gets posted online—authors getting agents, book deals, etc. If you’re jealous of another writer’s success, remember that you don’t know the journey that led to that stage. Be happy for your peers and allow yourself to be inspired by them, but most of all, have faith in yourself. You’re the only writer who can tell the stories you’re writing.
2. Slow down. Publishing can be a slow-moving beast, especially when you will it to speed up. If you’re checking your email a thousand times a day waiting on agent responses to your queries, or updates when you’re on submission, you will end up a jangly bunch of nerves. Once, I checked my email 12 times in the span of a 15-minute car ride to work. This is a true story. Did it make news come any faster? No, but it did make me crazy. Try to understand that you can’t change how slowly or quickly things happen, but you can control your words. Make all that waiting count.
3. Realize every book is different. Just like every writer’s journey is different, each book you write can follow an entirely different process. My debut, FIRSTS, wasn’t plotted at all, but the project I worked on directly after wouldn’t have come together without plotting. Give yourself the freedom to do whatever works for you, and understand that this may change constantly.
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4. Always be working on something new. This is arguably the most important thing I’ve learned. No matter what you’re doing—whether you’re querying, on submission, or waiting on an edit letter—channel your energy into something new. I always have at least one project on the go at any given time, and that passion keeps me excited and motivated. It also serves the dual purpose of cushioning the blow when rejections trickle in.
5. Find a critique partner. When I first started querying, my idea of revision meant moving some commas around, not cracking the bones of my story to put it together as something better. Seeking out a critique partner or beta reader you trust to read your manuscript and share his or her thoughts is invaluable. Interpreting and implementing critique also helps prepare you to work with an agent and editor.
6. Be nice to yourself. I’m a creature of habit and a stickler for routine. But some days, I just don’t feel like writing, and I’ve learned to accept that that is completely okay. It’s fine to take a break. It’s fine to work on something else. It’s fine to spend a day on the couch, watching Netflix and eating junk food. Listen to your brain and it will listen back when you want it to create interesting things out of nothing. Listen to your body, too—some of my best thinking is done when I get out of my desk chair and take long walks.
7. Take chances. Write what scares you. Write that crazy idea, the one you can’t stop thinking about, even if you don’t fully understand it. Let yourself learn as you go. Don’t box yourself in to one genre or one perspective or one concept. It’s great to know your brand and what kind of writer you want to be, but give yourself permission to defy that. I find that by challenging myself to try something different, I end up stretching my creative limits and realizing that I can do more than I gave myself credit for. I’ve never regretted trying something, even if it didn’t work out. This is how you grow as an artist. This is how you find your voice.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers’ Conferences:
- Oct. 28–30, 2016: Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference (Los Angeles, CA)
- Nov. 19, 2016: Las Vegas Writing Workshop (Las Vegas, NV)
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- Feb. 26–March 3, 2017: Writers Winter Escape Cruise (conference/cruise departing Miami)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- July 22, 2017: Tennessee Writers Workshop (Nashville, TN)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer’s Digest Conference (New York, NY)
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- A new agent wants unique literary voices, women’s fiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir & comedy.
- 10 Dos and Dont’s For the Aspiring Novelist.
- The Value of Tough Love and Honest Feedback.
- Agents Share Their Query Letter Pet Peeves.
- Agent Maria Vincente seeks clients NOW.
- Open Your Eyes and Ears: Writing Inspiration is all Around You.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.